If the Motion Picture Academy had any regard for its financial well-being, it would invent an Oscar for, or give a substantial bonus to, the poor schlub assigned to the task of assembling a brilliant trailer from the pieces of a god-awful movie, one that proceeds to dupe the public into spending hundreds of millions on a movie that by all rights should have gone straight to video. Every year, one person, buried in an editing bunker, takes two hours of celluloid lemons and makes 90 seconds of sweet, sweet lemonade. This list, in effect, is a tribute to their work, since it was the fruits of their labor that convinced us to see 10 movies that, upon further inspection, would prove to be craptacular. Lizards and apes and ducks. Oh, my.
|Howard the Duck (Universal)||August 1, 1986|
The Buzz: A longtime mainstay of Marvel Comics finally makes it to the big screen, in a film produced by George Lucas and written and directed by Willard Huyck, who also wrote “American Graffiti” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
The Hook: An anthropomorphic duck who smokes a cigar, teamed up with a lesser member of the Brat Pack (Lea Thompson) who’s playing a singer in a rock and roll band…? I smell franchise!
The Take: $5 million (3-day), $16 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: The smoke from Howard’s cigar confused us; what we thought was a franchise was actually a big ol’ bomb. In typical Hollywood fashion, the satire that was so often present original source material was almost completely ignored in favor of expensive special effects and countless groan-worthy puns. Even original songs by Thomas Dolby and a score by John Barry couldn’t help this lame “Duck” to take flight. – WH
|Hudson Hawk (TriStar)||May 24, 1991|
The Buzz: Bruce Willis, dealing with his “Die Hard”-powered Hollywood success train jumping the tracks after “Bonfire of the Vanities,” attempts to right himself by writing himself a script…well, co-writing, anyway…where he plays a master thief who sings while he steals.
The Hook: Bruce Willis sings! But, wait: was that actually a hook in 1991? After all, this was four years after Bruno returned; we were painfully aware of his limited vocal range by this point. Well, the other big hook was that the film cost a lot to make, which is always a sign of quality. Always.
The Take: $7 million (3-day), $17 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Okay, so not always. Tri-Star foolishly tried to promote the film as an action film with some comedic elements when, in reality, it was much more of a not-very-funny comedy with some action elements. Ultimately, though, the best definition of “Hudson Hawk” is “a flop so huge it killed Willis’ box-office viability stone dead until the one-two punch of ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ resurrected it.” – WH
|Last Action Hero (Columbia)||June 18, 1993|
The Buzz: On the heels of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (which made our list of Eventful Event Movies), Arnold Schwarzenegger decides it’s time to poke fun at his image as an action hero and teams up with director John McTiernan (“Die Hard”) to make it happen.
The Hook: A young film buff named Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) catches an advance screening of “Jack Slater IV,” the latest Schwarzenegger flick, and, with the help of a “magic ticket,” Danny actually ends up in the movie, resulting in more big-name cameos than you can shake a stick at.
The Take: $15 million (3-day), $50 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Attempts to bill “The Last Action Hero” as “the next great summer action movie” were, one presumes, an attempt to disguise the big, bloated mess that the film turned out to be. There were plenty of interesting concepts floating about, but with four screenwriters, the studio’s attempts at making a focus-group-friendly blockbuster ultimately hit the ground with a deafening thud. – WH
|Waterworld (Universal)||July 28, 1995|
The Buzz: At the time, this film was notorious as the most expensive movie ever made thanks to rumored re-shoots to cover up star Kevin Costner's bald spot in underwater scenes. It never even had a chance.
The Hook: Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper were strong box-office draws at the time and, dude, it's "Mad Max" on water!…I guess.
The Take: 21 million (3-day), $88 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Just take a look at those box-office numbers. This movie cost a minimum of $175 million (probably much more) just to make! That's a flop worse than the entire Italian national soccer team could muster. FLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP! – AK
|Godzilla (TriStar)||May 19, 1998|
The Buzz: In an attempt to outshine “Jurassic Park” and compete with disaster flicks like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” director Roland Emmerich broke his promise of preserving the spirit of Godzilla by transforming the misunderstood science project-gone-wrong into a CGI wrecking ball with the ability to (gasp) reproduce.
The Hook: “Created by the team that brought you ‘Independence Day’,” not to mention several creative trailers including one where Godzilla emerges from a lake with an old man fishing, and another that takes place in a museum full of kids.
The Take: $55 million (3-day), $136 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Any movie that makes half of its total box office in the opening weekend is guilty of disguising a crappy movie as a summer blockbuster. Honestly, I can’t believe none of us saw it coming – but then again, who really believed Hollywood would go so far as to have one of the most legendary monsters in movie history relegated to hiding out in Madison Square Garden with a brood of dino hatchlings? – JZ
|Wild, Wild West (Warner Brothers)||June 30, 1999|
The Buzz: Will Smith, then the undisputed king of summer blockbusters, reunites with “Men in Black” director Barry Sonnenfeld for a gadget-heavy spin on movies about gay cowboys and pudding. Okay, maybe not so much with the pudding, though one could make a very strong argument for the movie’s gayness on a few different levels.
The Hook: Fresh off four huge hits in a row, no one had any reason to doubt Smith, and that belief was affirmed when Warners unveiled a fantastic trailer for “West,” cut to the tune of Smith’s Stevie Wonder/Kool Moe Dee-sampling title track.
The Take: $27.6 million (3-day), $113.8 million (domestic)
The Verdict: Producer Jon Peters finally got his wish to have some movie, any movie, feature a giant mechanical spider, whether it needed one or not (Kevin Smith fans just nodded knowingly). George Clooney bailed out early into production, and his replacement was…Kevin Kline. Kenneth Branagh played a total amputee that couldn’t recognize Will Smith in drag. In retrospect, we’re wondering what it was about this movie that they thought people would actually like. – DM
|Mission: Impossible II (Paramount Pictures)||May 24, 2000|
The Buzz: Noteworthy. Brian DePalma’s first installment, while it didn’t make a lick of sense, rung up the cash registers big time. One must remember that this is, presumably, before Tom Cruise lost his mind and was still a big box office draw. Hong Kong sensation John Woo was brought in to direct, which meant plenty of slow motion and flying doves. Audiences were stoked.
The Hook: The trailer was certainly a sleek piece of work, particularly the sequence where Cruise is dangling by one arm from a giant rock formation. Stunts aplenty were promised, but how would the story fare?
The Take: $70.8 million (opening weekend), $215.3 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Getting Cruise back was huge, but whose idea was it to cast Dougray Scott as the villain? My parrot Buddy draws more blood than that dude. Plus, no one could come up with a coherent plot this time around, either? It hardly mattered; the flick made major coin and looked cool as hell. – BC
|Planet of the Apes (Twentieth Century Fox)||July 27, 2001|
The Buzz: Director Tim Burton came on board in pre-production to try to save this struggling "re-imagining" of the 1968 sci-fi classic.
The Hook: Tim Roth, Michael Clark Duncan and Paul Giamatti, three of Hollywood's hottest actors at the time, played apes, and Estella Warren, one of the hottest supermodels at the time, pranced around in a slave-girl outfit the whole movie.
The Take: $69 million (3-day), $180 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Although not quite the financial flop as some of the other films on this list thanks to a strong hype-fueled opening, not even Burton could save this movie. Whether it was Mark Wahlberg's wooden performance, the stilted dialogue in the script, or Helena Bonham Carter's chimp make-up that made her look like a post-op Michael Jackson, the movie just didn't live up to the expectations created by the original. – AK
|The Matrix Reloaded (Warner Brothers)||May 15, 2003|
The Buzz: When word finally leaked that the Wachowski brothers got the green light to shoot the second and third installments of the “Matrix” trilogy back to back, the fan boys, high from seeing the first two chapters of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies in the previous 18 months, had visions of bullet cam greatness dancing in their heads.
The Hook: The much ballyhooed battle between Neo and multiple Agent Smiths, and the climactic “highway chase,” for which a 1.4-mile race track was assembled specifically to shoot the sequence.
The Take: $91.7 million (3-day), $281.5 million (domestic)
The Verdict: This might be the most unloved $280 million-grossing movie in history. Overblown and pompous – someone please speak so the Merovingian will keep quiet! – “Reloaded” bent over backwards to be a thinking man’s movie, but wound up a convoluted mess, leaving one to wonder if the Wachowskis really did envision a trilogy or if they manufactured one on the fly. – DM
|Snakes on a Plane (New Line Cinema)||August 18, 2006|
The Buzz: Off the charts! Aided by the biggest Internet campaign since “The Blair Witch Project,” the hype for “Snakes on a Plane” reached fever pitch when it graced the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Fanboys who just wanted to see a good bad movie with Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs slammed message boards for months and even convinced New Line to take the film from a PG-13 rating to R.
The Hook: The fact that Jackson did this movie without even reading the script tells the whole story. He wanted a fun, throwback film that would turn this era of sequels and remakes on its side. Guilty pleasure cinema was to make its return.
The Take: $15.2 million (opening weekend), $34 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: So what went wrong here? Anyone who frequented any film-related message boards would have left thinking this would be a gigantic hit. First off, New Line didn’t do any press or promotional screenings prior to release date. This was a gigantic mistake, as the word-of-mouth from said screenings would have been tremendous. The studio was banking on every nerd (and I’m one of them) showing up opening weekend sight unseen, and it didn’t happen. Perhaps it’s for the better – this was a cult classic the second it was announced. – BC
Of course, not all event movies fall flat. Check out our list of Eventful Summer Event Movies.